Students speak out in response to racist emails

Students speak out in response to racist emails – 11/02/2006
Concordy Author: Dylan Breslin-Barnhart

Featured Brother: Na’eem Muhammad

Last Friday’s student-led rally united hundreds of Union students against intolerance and bigotry in a display of resolve that bolted administrators to their feet and grabbed the attention of two area newspapers and five television news channels. In an apparent effort to maintain the passion surrounding the rally, student leaders have kicked off an unofficial campaign of exposure.

At a Monday night meeting, various officers of groups including the Black Student Union, Inter-Fraternity Council, Student Forum, African and Latino Alliance of Students, Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, an the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity planned their next moves.  In a continuing quest for accountability and fact, this diverse student panel decided to follow up the rally with a planned question and answer session between Union students, President Ainlay, and Dean Leavitt. This forum will be open to all Union students and represents an opportunity for the administration to continue a dialogue regarding questions and concerns arising from the death threat email scandal. The date and time for the question and answer session has not been finalized as of yet but will probably occur during the midday student lunch hour in the upcoming weeks.

Brian Gulack, ’07, President of the Student Forum, emphasized the need for a continuance of student involvement in current Union politics. He does not want the student “”response [to the hate emails to].die down”” and referenced events in Union’s recent past where students mobilized around an important cause only to abandon it soon after. Perhaps these fears speak to the importance of initiating a question and answer dialogue with the administration. Gulack added that “”we need to increase communication between people on campus”” in order to bridge the gaps “”between people of different backgrounds.”” In other words, increased communication leads to increased understanding which results in increased tolerance.

Na’eem Muhammad,’08, President of Alpha Phi Alpha and Chairman of the African and Latino Alliance of Students, commented with a similar sense of optimism but aimed more directly at the Union administration. Muhammad argued that the hate email scandal put Dean Leavitt in “”an awkward situation”” because the “”college hasn’t put him in a position”” with enough authority to cut through the bureaucratic red tape limiting his ability to effectively react. As Muhammad said, “”If [Leavitt] was allowed to do his job, he wouldn’t have to say ‘go to the President'”” in response to requests that currently become just referrals up the bureaucratic command chain.

With localized command, the thinking goes, results might come faster. In such a case, perhaps Aldumen Gomez would have been provided a cell phone by now to minimize his isolation or maybe he would have received money for food upon being taken away from Union. According to conversation during Monday night’s meeting, Union College gave Gomez neither the phone nor initial food money, hence the reasoning behind Muhammad’s argument for increasing Leavitt’s powers so that the dean could directly authorize provisions for Gomez or anyone else in a similarly unfortunate situation.

Some felt that increasing Leavitt’s power missed the point and advised the creation of a Dean of Multicultural Affairs such as at Union’s competitor Hamilton College.  Shanique Kerr, ’09, co-chair of the Black Student Union, mentioned that she had heard President Ainlay oppose such a proposition essentially on the grounds that creating a Dean of Multicultural Affairs would compartmentalize multicultural affairs; “”he wants them to be a school-wide and not [a single] department issue.””

Union currently remains rather publicly askew from President Ainlay’s vision. In his inaugural address, Ainlay asserted that “”because of its history, Union must set the bar of accountability high.and similarly, Union students and graduates, too, have a responsibility to be more self-conscious and self-critical, to hold themselves to a high standard and to make a difference in the world they inhabit.””

The difference a few are making continues to reverberate throughout the community. The Daily Gazette top story from last weekend reads in part: “”Another student, senior Charles Sumpter, also left the college after receiving an email last week from anonymous students who said they wanted to hang him. They called him a racial slur and said he was a ‘faggot’. ‘We will make sure u find your way to the nearest tree before the term is over,’ the e-mail read.  Rather than raise the bar of accountability, these comments create a dangerous atmosphere of malevolence that causes students like Jessica Goldberg,’08, to second guess her classmates.

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